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Pryor v. National RailRoad Passenger Corp.

December 09, 1998

HARRY L. PRYOR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 94-L-237

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Maag

IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS FIFTH DISTRICT

Honorable Phillip J. Kardis, Judge, presiding.

This suit was filed on March 16, 1994, by the plaintiff, Harry Pryor, against his employer, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. §51 et seq. (1981). Pryor alleged that Amtrak was negligent and that this negligence caused him to develop carpal tunnel syndrome in the course of performing his duties as a locomotive engineer. In July 1997, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Amtrak. Pryor appeals.

Initially, we note that in the order and notice of appeal, a scrivener's error occurred and the words Railroad and Passenger were inadvertently transposed. We consider this to be of no consequence. The sole issue raised by Pryor is a claim that the circuit court erred in refusing his tendered burden of proof instruction (Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 160.03 (3d ed. 1995) (hereinafter IPI Civil 3d)) and further erred in giving instead Amtrak's tendered burden of proof instruction, which was a modified version of IPI Civil 3d No. 160.03.

FACTS

Pryor is a 59-year-old locomotive engineer employed by Amtrak. He began working in the railroad industry in 1961 as a fireman. He was promoted to locomotive engineer in 1966.

In the early 1970s, he began "borrowing out" to Amtrak. From the early 1970s until 1987, Pryor worked about half the time as a locomotive engineer for Amtrak. The other half of his time was spent working for the Illinois Central Railroad in freight service. In 1987 Pryor was hired full time by Amtrak.

During the time Pryor has worked for Amtrak, he has operated the passenger train that travels between Chicago and St. Louis. He has mainly used the F-40 model locomotive. This locomotive has a control stand developed in the 1960s. The control stand is used by many railroads in this country. While the evidence was conflicting with respect to precisely what takes place on each trip, it was established that the Chicago-to-St. Louis trip takes approximately 5 to 5½ hours and during that time the controls are manipulated many times.

Pryor alleged that Amtrak was negligent in that it knew that carpal tunnel syndrome was a condition caused by repetitive movements. He also claimed that Amtrak knew that movements that are awkward or require some amount of force to perform are associated with the condition. Despite this knowledge, he alleged, Amtrak failed to take steps to prevent him from developing the condition.

Amtrak acknowledged that it possessed general information about carpal tunnel syndrome, but it denied that it had any knowledge that locomotive engineers were at risk, and it further denied that Pryor's employment caused him to develop the condition.

ANALYSIS

Preliminarily we will discuss an issue that received substantial attention at trial. This issue concerned what Amtrak knew, could have known, or should have known about the relationship, if any, between carpal tunnel syndrome and the operation of a locomotive with controls similar to those used by Pryor.

The word knew is a common term. It is the past tense of the word know, and is defined as follows: "To apprehend with clarity or certainty; *** to be cognizant or aware." American Heritage Dictionary 705 (2d ed. 1985). The word could is the past tense of can and is defined as: "used to indicate possibility or probability". American Heritage Dictionary 232 (2d ed. 1985). Should is the past tense of shall ...


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